A Dirk-less Dallas reveals the value of shot creation

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A night of Dallas without Dirk Nowitzki would be a thoroughly dull and pointless affair, regardless of outcome, if not for the fact that the wonderful talents of Rob Mahoney of The Two Man Game will still be chronicling the events.

While doing his thing for the New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog, Mahoney talks about the Mavericks 84-76 loss to the Toronto Raptors and what the loss of Nowitzki’s specific skill set means to Dallas.

The discrepancy in talent between Dirk and his teammates is notable, but the Mavs’ embarrassing loss to a short-handed Raptors team was as attributable to skill set as it was to actual skill. No one on the Mavs can produce at Nowitzki’s level, but they also can’t even occupy the spaces he normally fills on the floor, create quality shots in a half-court setting, or run the two-man game as a legitimate threat.

Dallas has many useful players, but the dirty little secret of the Mavs’ offense is that almost all of their shot creation is reliant on Nowitzki.

For all the depth the Mavericks and Spurs boast, the truth is all of it is for naught without a catalyst to make their role players’ skill sets make sense.

So long as he has functional athleticism, Jason Kidd will always be a valuable playmaker because of his ability to see the floor and make the proper reads and passes on each play. But these days he’s more likely to take advantage of broken defenses than actually break them down himself.

The key for any successful offense is establishing at least one focal point that can consistently draw double teams, preferably in the paint—which is why dominant big men are always preferable and Jordan developing a post game made him more effective than when his athleticism was at its peak.

This is why, efficiency be damned, some teams are so quick to line up for the talents of Carmelo Anthony. The thing about role players is that they can do a lot of things at a very high level, but the most difficult thing to do in the NBA is to operate against a set defense.

Perhaps this is why inefficient, high volume gunners are so desirable coming off the bench, because despite their flaws they help the rest of the bench stay within their roles.

For Dallas, Nowitzki is the point of attack that initially disrupts the defense, setting a chain reaction of defensive rotations that eventually culminates in a high percentage look for its individually low efficiency scorers.

In San Antonio, with Duncan no longer commanding double teams on a nightly basis, that role is actually filled by the combination of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

While individually, each can carry an offense for stretches, to truly realize this role they work best in tandem. Manu Ginobili has a Kidd-like instinctive ability to see plays before they happen, which is why his skill set will still remain valuable even after his athleticism diminishes to the point where he no longer creates the action. While Parker leads the team in assists, it’s generally accepted that Ginobili is the superior playmaker.

But the dirty little secret to Ginobili is you can force him to make his teammates beat you. Manu is not the superior athlete you generally think of when you think elite shooting guards. This accounts for the separation between he and a healthy Bryant or Wade—their ability to consistently take even what a defense does not always give you.

Tony Parker is, perhaps, the one true freakish athlete on the Spurs team capable of accomplishing this. While he’s best known for his scoring exploits, he undeniably makes his teammates better by allowing them broken defenses to operate against.

This is why Richard Jefferson and Matt Bonner suddenly make sense, or why the Spurs can pull role players from seemingly nowhere. It’s also why none of it worked last season or the year before, when two of the big three still appeared to be doing their thing and the role players seemed to have failed them.

It’s also why, if the Spurs are to avoid an upset tonight (provided Dirk does not play), they should keep a close eye on J.J. Barea and Jason Terry.

  • George

    Good story…….but per Ginobili’s sake though he is not a freakish athlete his skill set is there and as weve all seen especially end of last year and beginning of this year Gino can break a defense down with his craftiness and shooting alont. He makes defenses ADJUST to him and thats where he makes his mark. Parker is a minature shooting guard with his moves and ur on point he’s prolly the only one on that team with elite moves in that athletic way.. Yea with the likes of crazy shooting marion playing more minutes hopefully they pull this one out..be on the look out for caron he has potential to burn the spurs…RJ defense first today homey.

  • DieHardSpur

    Exactly why do we need to keep an eye on Barea or Terry?

    I think you meant they need to keep their eye on Tony. Terry doesn’t really count, because he cant stay with Tony in the open court. Barea on the other hand, is one of the guys who consistently gives Tony problems…

    I look for Manu and Timmy to have bounce-back games tonight.

    Is it just me, or is Matty making just about every damn shot he throws up. My wife loves that goof ball. Just the other day she said to me “Is that a Bonner in your pants, or are you just happy to see me…”

    Gonna be a good game – I will be watching!

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Jesse Blanchard

    Ginobili does have the skill set, and he is an elite shooting guard. The fact that he is, without ever having that Jordan-ish explosiveness, only goes to show you how unique and damn good he really is.

    That being said, the Mavs were able to slow him down a bit by placing a defender on each side of the screen in pick and roll situations, trapping him and forcing him to pass. The Suns did the same. Against Dallas, George Hill hit the corner three. Against Phoenix, he did not. End of story.

    Parker is better equipped to split that trap.

    I say keep an eye out for Barea or Terry not because they’re superior players (or in Barea’s case, better than a backup), but because each has a little bit of the ability to break down a defense and make the rest of the team make sense.

  • McShane

    *fingers crossed for the German to be out just one more game*

  • BOSS

    Good point Jesse that is exactly how Dallas is gonna play Manu we just gotta make the 3′s when they force the ball outta his hands, and i hope we don’t come in looking at this as a easy win b/c Dirk isn’t playing b/c it is not. I always say if Dallas plays everyone as hard as they do the Spurs they might have a ring by now. So watch it cuz this game could be a lil tricky.

  • Daniel B.

    I felt the same about Dirk initially, McShane, but I’m actually hoping to see him tonight. There’s an open question on whether our Spurs are elite, one that wasn’t entirely answered by the Lakers game. I want to know if we’re good enough to beat them straight up this season. We obviously were in the playoffs last year, but this year’s team is a different team.

    Bring ‘em on.

  • phil

    i hope nowitzki plays we need to win with players on the court we need to know we can beat anybody full strength we w¡ll be champions GO SPURS!!!

  • DieHardSpur

    Here’s to Dirk playing tonight so Manu can break his nose with an accidental elbow….

    *Cheers*

  • Flavor

    DieHardSpurs
    December 30th, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Thumbs up!

  • bduran

    I think Wade is the best 2 guard in the game, but I’m not sold on Kobe’s ability to creat offense being better than Ginobili’s. Kobe does have an incredible willingless to shoot tough shots (and hit them at a reasonable rate most nights), but this can be a bad thing as we saw on Tuesday. Kobe’s such an amazingly skilled player I’ve always though the only thing stopping him from being the best is that he’s too willing to shoot. I’m much rather have a guy like Ginobili who will pass when forced to and get a role player an open shot. I think most nights it’s better to have a less skilled player take an open shot then a star force somehting up early in the shot clock.

    The thing about Dirk is, there are no really tough shots for him. He’s so tall and so comfortable shooting from long range, that it’s really hard to adequatley bother his shot. I think that’s why shorter guys often seem to do a better job on him away from the basket. It’s more about making him uncomfortable than contesting his shot.

    “There’s an open question on whether our Spurs are elite”

    If the Spurs haven’t closed it after going 27-4 with an +8.3 point differential, then they aren’t going to no matter what happens tonight.

  • agutierrez

    I think the Mavs were afraid The Beast might go Tonya Harding on the big german, so they’re holding him out. Damn!

  • ruth bader ginobili

    Good points. This Mavs team seems kind of similar to LeBron’s Cleavland teams in that regard. Maybe that type of team does better in the regular season than the post-season?

  • NYC

    Screw that! I want to see Nowitzki tonight. I want us to beat their asses decidedly with their star player on the court. I don’t want a 3/4 of a win, I want the full beat down and leave them no excuses as to why they will lose tonight. I want us to get another chance to solve the puzzle of Nowitzki and how to play that team. I want vengeance from the last game! I want vengeance for Finley getting punched in the sack. I want to crush Dallas’ soul and drink the blood of their first sons. I demand satisfaction!!

  • NYC

    Ahem.

    So, yeah, I agree we have Parker and Ginobili who can break down a defense, while they only have Dirk. Terry, maybe, but I’m not impressed with Barea in the least. He fumbles the ball all the time and makes bad passes and poor plays. His size is a huge liability. He’s got the speed to stay with Parker and nothing else. I say put Barea on the court so we can watch him get owned. Bring it.

    I’m more curious to see what they will do with their post players tonight.

  • ThatBigGuy

    Amazing post, Jesse. You’ve put into words what most of us have thought about Manu/Tony for years.

    Each guy’s abilities fit perfectly with the other’s. Tony drives middle off the PNR, breaks up the defense, dishes to Hill in the corner, who passes to Manu on the elbow, who then reads the scrambling defense and hits the open Blair for the dunk. How many times have we seen that play?

    Dirk or no Dirk, we have to get this win.

  • DorieStreet

    2 weeks from tomorrow night and March 18th–Dirk will be there for those games. The Spurs have to be focused make shots. The Mavs are coming off a bad home loss- they will come out runnin’ & gunnin’. Of course everyone will poo-poo the victory, but the bashing and dissing of the Spurs will reach a cresendo if we leave Airmerican Airlines Center with a loss tonight. I’ve yet too see asterisk attached to wins in the standings. Let’s finish 2010 @ 28-4.

  • SpurredOn

    Very much want Dirk to play. Any team can over-achieve for one game with a star out so the Spurs gain little from tonight, although I’ll take a victory in the standings any night.

    If Dirk isn’t out there, the Spurs should gut the Mavs if we’re playing the kind of game long defense that was played against the Lakers. Embarrass them without apologies.

  • r.l.manuel

    a win is a win…
    go spurs go

  • r.l.manuel

    lets get it on
    go spurs go

  • r.l.manuel

    39-29SA

  • r.l.manuel

    neal is bad ass

  • r.l.manuel

    oh where art thy dirk?

  • r.l.manuel

    50-43 spurs

  • r.l.manuel

    “get your buzz on…”
    -Chickenfoot

  • r.l.manuel

    53-46 spurs halftime

  • r.l.manuel

    lol
    got my new SPURS flag today
    got a 20ft flag pole in my front yard
    freakin awesome …
    (i live in oklahoma city)
    lol

  • r.l.manuel

    barkley=gump

  • r.l.manuel

    71-64 spurs

  • r.l.manuel

    wow fratella you think ,,, really???

  • r.l.manuel

    neal
    is …oh yeah

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  • r.l.manuel

    99-93 spurs final
    28-4
    goodnight
    im going downtown
    and get me a jelly donut
    go spurs go

  • Gary. Neal

    Happy New Years Eve everybody!

  • hemisfair89

    Well, I’m gonna do what I know Coach Pop won’t let the team do-I’m gonna enjoy this win and this 28-4 record. Wow. It’s a great feeling, sitting at the top of the mountain and knowing they can still go higher. I have great trust in the coaching staff and the “big three” to push these guys and not let complacency set in. They have their sights set on a fifth title and they have put themselves in position to contend. Man, Pop is having an outstanding season, the man is coaching his a** off. Let’s get the next one. Go Spurs Go!

  • spursfanbayarea

    Spurs easily the best team in the NBA. Funny how people keep coming up with excuses for our record. The season is a long season and all teams go through injuries. We have already lost anderson for an extended time. Wake up people. Spurs are the best team hands down. I find it funny that people think we have to measure ourselves up to other teams when in actuality its other teams using us as the measuring sticks. Phil Jackson and staff said so just this week. Go Spurs Go!!

  • Gomezd

    It is incredible, to be frank Ginobili does not have a fraction of the athletic power a Lebron James or a Dwayne Wade has, the fact that he has been able to do SO MUCH with so little is a testament to his competitive nature.

    I remember reading in his website in spanish the way he speaks about bron and anthony he said that they were freaks of nature that playing against them was incredible, well in my opinion becoming an elite guard with his relative handicap abilities is the true definition of incredible.

  • andy

    yeah, today i was at a cafe, and the newspaper here in buenos aires had a quote from him, speaking about how he doesn’t feel he should be in the running for the mvp; he’s quoted as saying he’s lucky to be on such a unified team, and he’s just in the position to score the most points. he says guys like wade, lebron, nowitzki are the freaks/lunchpail guys who carry their teams.

    “But the dirty little secret to Ginobili is you can force him to make his teammates beat you. Manu is not the superior athlete you generally think of when you think elite shooting guards.”

    i don’t agree with this; while ginobili doesn’t have elite athleticism, his shot creation value was always from the freaky way he moves. you don’t need superior athleticism if no one knows where you’re going to be in the next split second. the jump step backwards was the last example i can think of. no one else moves like “el contusion”, and you still have to account for him.